Drive from SE London: 35 minutes from Sydenham.
Another North Downs escarpment walk, this time to the west of the Darent Valley, but quite near the Polhill and Andrews Woods walks. Fine views, meadows and woods feature along with a massive 18th-century mansion. A straightforward, easy-to-navigate route that surprised me with its length when I GPX’d it (it feels shorter than five-miles). Chevening is an attractive hamlet with a lovely church. Some slightly strenuous uphills but nothing too severe, and a few stiles between points 3 and 4. I’ve only ever walked this route in reverse and found the latter stages quite dull, but after doing this three times it’s finally dawned on me that it’s much better to get the boring bit over first. So here it is, the ‘wrong way round’.
Getting there: Knockholt Pound village is an easy drive on the A21, then turn right on to Rushmore Hill at, wait for it, Pratt’s Bottom. There are buses, the R5 and R10, but they’re infrequent. Knockholt Station (trains from Charing Cross) is about two miles from the start of the walk. It always rains when I go there – even when the forecast is good.
Start of walk: Chevening Lane. Park in Knockholt Pound village or at the bottom (northern end) of Chevening Lane.
Point 1-2 2km: This is the aforementioned boring bit. Well actually, Chevening Lane (Point 1) is a really nice road to stroll down with lovely trees and one or two vivid gardens (including one on the right near the end with one of the nicest hanging baskets I’ve ever seen). There are next to no cars, because it’s effectively a dead end with few houses. After about 350 metres (6 minutes?) you reach the North Downs Way footpath. I think it’s best to turn right here (westward) so we get the dull bit over with early. There are fields on your right and woods on your left, that’s all there is to say really, it’s a bit meh. Oh, wait, yes, fairly early on there’s a view down a cleared streak of woods of Chevening House at the foot of the scarp a couple of miles distant. The path is easy to follow as it twists around with much of the land either side private property, so there’s little risk of losing yourself. Anyway, after about a mile you reach Sundridge Lane (Point 2).
Point 2-3 700m: Turn left (south) on Sundridge Lane. Still nothing too exciting. It’s another quiet road with just the occasional car and bike so although you have to walk about half a mile down it, it’s relatively safe for a road. Thick hedgerows line both sides of the lane with dense woods on your left. It’s OK, but there’s nothing much to see. Walk past Knockholt Lodge on left, then around 230 metres further on you’ll come to Keepers Cottage (point 3), again on the left. From here the walk is all good and not dull at all.
Point 3-4 1.5km: Look for the footpath gate on the left just past the cottage and stride off, downhill through the woods heading south-east. Soon you’ll leave the woods and hit a lovely meadow overlooked by a bench. Follow the footpath easterly now and enter another meadow via woodland with quite a spectacular view of Chevening House up ahead. This meadow has a damaged tree in it… maybe a lightning strike. Stay descending on this path over the odd stile and enter the Chevening estate proper… the ‘keep out’ signs will ensure you maintain the right course! After emerging from the final bits of woodland, the path crosses a lane within the grounds amid pleasant pasture/parkland. Note ahead, to the right, the church tower of Chevening’s St Botolph’s; that’s where we’re headed. Eventually the Chevening estate path reaches a T junction: a north-south path (point 4). (If you’ve had enough, turn left, which heads straight back to Chevening Lane – but you’ll miss some of the best bits.)
Point 4-5: 1.5km: At point 4, turn right for Chevening (south). The hamlet has the feel of somewhere that never made it out of the 1930s with it’s ancient telephone box, old houses and churchyard. It’s a lovely spot that always makes me want a cream tea for some reason. But that’s a Devon thing… in Kent, forget it, unless you’re in National Trust territory. Walk through the churchyard and take the slightly overgrown path directly behind. This path is pretty good for wildflowers, particularly purple thorns and wild teasels. As a result it’s popular with birds, especially goldfinches.After about 500 metres, the path emerges on to the quite busy Sundridge Road. You are also quite near the M25 here as the noise will make you aware. This is Point 5.
Point 5-back to start 2.8km: The longest section, and perhaps the best. You’ll only be on Sundridge Rd for 200 metres, but take care please, especially if you have children with you, it’s quite busy and a bit fast. After (Turvin) farm buildings, take the path on the left heading north towards the North Downs chalk escarpment, first alongside a cereal field (maize at the moment) then on the more meadowy escarpment itself where you climb slightly northwest, skirting Star Hill Wood. Take it slow and enjoy the views over the vale behind you and over towards Ide Hill, perched on the Greensand Ridge to the south and further east towards Kemsing Down, Ightham and Oldbury Hill. The path, actually the North Downs Way, bends round to the west. At the top of the scarp, walk on the edge of attractive meadows and woods until you reach Chevening Lane again. Voila.
Any pubs? Three Horseshoes by the start of the walk at Knockholt Pound. I’ve never been in, but here’s the website. There’s a handy shop very close by, too, that’s usually open for drinks and snacks.
Chevening House: Still kept in government use and for the odd royal (they’re all quite odd). I think Nick Clegg lived there for a bit and Boris Johnson is quite partial to it. Read about it on Wikipedia or its own page here. You can’t visit it or even get very close.
What’s nearby? The huge Coolings Garden Centre, on two sites, is probably the biggest draw. If you’ve time for another walk straight after this one, it’s not far to Andrews Wood (east) for the Polhill Bank/Pluto route or a quick stroll in Meenfield Woods. Or head a few miles west for the shorter Downe circular.